Seeing Bartimaeus

+ A sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 30B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on October 24, 2021 +

Text: Mark 10:46-52


They were almost there.
Almost to the end of the journey.
I can’t imagine the things that must have been buzzing in the heads of those disciples as they left that great, ancient city of Jericho, just a few miles from their destination in Jerusalem.
Maybe some were in awe at the great, metropolitan city they had just experienced with its colors and smells and energy.
Maybe some were still a little ticked at James and John’s attempt to seize power among them and were trying to understand Jesus’ teachings on greatness and service.
Maybe some were still puzzling over what Jesus said would happen to him when they got to the holy city, that he would be arrested, humiliated, beaten, crucified…and then rise again?
Maybe they were hoping they could turn back and go home.

But whatever thoughts they were having as they made their way up to Jerusalem were suddenly interrupted by someone shouting at them.
And even as the crowd tried to hush him, he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The crowd hushed as Jesus called this man over, eager to see what would happen next.

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” a disciple calls to the man.

“Isn’t he that blind beggar who hangs out on the road?” someone in the crowd asked, as the man jumped up, threw off his cloak and ran to Jesus.

“Yeah, I think that’s what’s his name…Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.” another replied.

“What do you want me to do for you,” they hear Jesus ask this man.

“Teacher, let me see again,” he replied.

“Go; your faith has made you well,” Jesus said. And the crowd gasped as Bartimaeus regained his sight and joined the disciples on their way up to Jerusalem.

Now, at first glance, this story sounds like just another healing miracle by Jesus.
Which, I admit, is a rather strange thing to even think, right?
I mean, it’s not we can ever cease to marvel at these strange and miraculous works of power.
It’s not like we can ever stop wondering why these healings which seem so commonplace with Jesus can’t be more prevalent in our modern lives.
But now that we’re at the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry in Mark’s gospel, we’ve heard this all before, right?
We’ve seen Jesus exorcise demons, heal the sick, cleanse leapers, feed the hungry, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead.
So, what makes this story so special?

But there’s something different about Bartimaeus.
This is Jesus’ final miracle in Mark’s gospel, the culmination of his ministry on earth, the very essence of his mission among us.
On the face of this story, it doesn’t sound like it’s anything especially noteworthy, all things considered.
But Mark invites us to look closer.
Because even Bartimaeus’ name gives us some clues that there is something more going on here.
Mark usually doesn’t tell us the names of people Jesus heals, but he does here.
We’re told this man is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.
But, if you break that down a bit, the word “Bar” means “son of,” so his name, “Bar-Timaeus,” means “son of Timaeus.”
And the Hebrew word “Timaeus” means “unclean.”
So, Mark is telling us that this blind beggar’s name is “Son of the Unclean, the son of the Unclean.”
In other words, this man is doubly unclean, doubly outcast, so far out on the margins of the margins of society that not even begging within the city but on the highway outside of town.
He’s such an outsider that the crowd tries to silence him when he calls out for Jesus’ help.
I mean, why bother the Teacher with the ramblings of this absolute nobody?

But somehow, blind Bartimaeus living on the outskirts of society does something no one else has done.
Because did you hear what he cried out?
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Jesus, Son of David.”
Mr. “Son of the Unclean, the son of the Unclean” is the first and only person in Mark’s gospel to call Jesus the Son of David, the greatest king in Israel’s history.
And make no mistake, this is a potent, dangerous title to ascribe to Jesus.
It links him to the great kings of old, to the monarchy of Israel’s glory days.
It proclaims Jesus as the heir of God’s promises to the people and the fruition of the prophet’s promises of the restoration of the House of David.
And it is a direct rebuke of the legitimacy of the Roman Empire currently occupying the land and oppressing the people.
Claiming to be the son, the heir, of David—the rightful king chosen by God—would undoubtably be treason against the Empire.
But regardless of the political consequences, blind Bartimaeus is somehow able to see what no one else, not even Jesus’ own disciples, has been able to see—that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to undermine the empires of this world and all their unjust authority to inaugurate a new kingdom of heaven, a reign of peace and justice.
And Jesus, who has been so secretive of his identity throughout Mark’s gospel, does not silence Bartimaeus, because they’re about to enter Jerusalem and no veil will be able to obscure Jesus’ mission and true identity any longer.

No, Bartimaeus may not seem like much at first glance, but for Mark, he is the very picture of the ideal disciple.
This extreme outsider, forgotten or disregarded by his neighbors is given to us as the role model of following Jesus.
Not only is Bartimaeus able to see Jesus for who he really is, he actively seeks him out and doesn’t allow those around him to hold him back.
His faith compels him to speak out against the oppressive empire that surrounds him.
He expects his encounter with Jesus to be transformational, to fundamentally change his life and his outlook on the world.
He throws off his cloak to get to Jesus, abandoning possibly his only earthly possession to follow him.
And when Jesus asks what he wants him to do for Bartimaeus, the man doesn’t demand glory and grandeur, but humbly asks Jesus for healing and wholeness.

All of this can be easily contrasted with what we’ve heard in the gospel the past few weeks.
With the rich man who found Jesus but went away grieving and would not sell his many possessions to follow him.
With James and John who come to Jesus seeking to improve their own honor and glory.
With all those original disciples who, even after traveling and learning from Jesus for so long, after seeing all his works of power, after hearing three predictions of what will happen when they get to Jerusalem still do not seem to understand who Jesus really is, showing that those first disciples are being outshined by this last disciple in Mark’s gospel.
And I mean last.
It may not seem like it because we are gathering today in October and not the end of Lent, but the very next thing that happens in the story is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem—what we often call Palm Sunday.
The cloak that Bartimaeus throws on the ground is the first of the cloaks that will line Jesus’ royal procession, his daring protest, in the holy city that will begin his final week on earth.
And even though Jesus frees Bartimaeus, telling him to “Go; your faith has made you well,” Bartimaeus leaves everything behind and follows Jesus on the way, on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to the cross, on the way of discipleship.

There’s no question that Mark wants us to see Bartimaeus and follow his example.
But, this morning, I am all too aware how much I fail to do that.
And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
And not only because Bartimaeus is most like those people I quickly shuffle by when I pass them on the street.
You know the ones I mean, those people we try not to see when we’re in a hurry.
Those people we pretend not to hear when they ask for some spare change.
Those people we wish would stop being so loud or that they would just go find a shelter.
Those people who we’ve turned into yet another political debate so we can just get them out of our way, out of our parks, out of our sight.
Not only because I could well have passed by Bartimaeus himself on the streets and disregarded him and all the things I could learn from him.
I realize how much I fail in showing the same faith and discipleship as Bartimaeus.

Because as much as this sounds like just another healing story to wrap up Jesus’ earthly ministry, this is at its heart a call story—and not just for Bartimaeus, but for you and me.
A call to be like that doubly unclean, doubly outcast man on the side of the road and to live our lives with the same trust and hope that he did; to see Jesus the same way blind Bartimaeus did.
To see Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah, with all the potent political implications of that title and no matter how much he will disrupt the status quo that is comfortable for so many of us, but brutally oppressive for our brother Bartimaeus.
To come to Jesus expecting transformation and wholeness so complete and so profound that we can only really experience it if we throw off whatever is holding us back and completely commit everything we have to following Jesus and serving each other on the way.
To use the gifts that Jesus gives us not for our own benefit alone, but for the life of the community to which we have been joined and to which we are committed to travel together, no matter the tough times that lie ahead just out of sight.

Just as we heard Jesus’ call to Bartimaeus this morning, my friends, we can hear him calling to us.
To boldly pray as he has taught us, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and to truly grapple with the implication of those words.
To root our lives in the waters of our baptism as we come to this Table seeking the healing and transformation that can happen when God claims our lives and fills every part of us.
To be re-formed into a community that has pledged to use all that we have, all our faith and hope, even our whole lives to speak out against oppression, to build up a place where all people are truly welcomed and embraced, to follow Jesus together on the way knowing full well where that road will lead—not only to the cross, but to the resurrection morning.

This is not an easy call to heed, my friends.
We know all too well how difficult it is to truly commit our lives to the way of discipleship.
But we are not alone in this calling either.
We are surrounded by fellow disciples here in this place, across the globe, and throughout all time from our brother Bartimaeus to the newest baptized child.
And we are confident that the one who has called us, the one who is journeying with us, the one who will never leave us is gathering us together to experience his own transformational healing and wholeness and new life.

Take heart, my friends; get up, Jesus is calling you.

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